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El Toro Marine Base Is a Big Place--Someone's Got to Run It

October 01, 1992|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who frequently contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. This column will appear regularly in OC Live!

The El Toro Marine Corps Air Station is a big place. Consider this: You can run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) just on the runways, without ever retracing your steps.

The station's annual Run of the Runways will prove that fact again Sunday.

The event offers a 5K run, a 10K run and a half-marathon (13.1 miles). The two shorter runs are held entirely on the runways; the half-marathon takes runners onto the station's perimeter roads.

"No one really realizes how large the air base is," says Carrie Kidwiler, promotions coordinator for the event. The payoff for runway runners is that the courses are flat and free of automobile traffic.

The half-marathon is popular as a training run for distance runners and some triathletes. Races of that distance are hard to come by, and the course distance is certified by the Athletics Congress, which makes it eligible as a qualifying run for other races.

"It's a good training course," Kidwiler says. "It's flat and it's fast."

Among the runners the race attracted last year was Greg Welch of Encinitas, one of the world's top triathletes, who went on to post a second place in Hawaii's Ironman Triathlon two weeks later. Welch won the Mazda/Orange County Performing Arts Center Triathlon last June, one of the country's top events at the international distance (1,500-meter swim, 40K bicycle race and 10K run).

Welch won last year's Run of the Runways half-marathon in a fast 1 hour, 6 minutes, 15 seconds. Other winning times were 15:50 for the 5K and 32:35 for the 10K.

Also recorded was a time of 1:13:32 in the half-marathon relay, an event nicknamed the Leatherneck Challenge, which draws competitors from military bases all over California. The relay is not open to the public but is popular with spectators.

In addition to the races, the Run of the Runways offers a morning pancake breakfast, an aircraft display and a health and fitness exposition. "It's got more of an event atmosphere to it" than many other runs, Kidwiler says.

The race took on a special cast in 1990, when many of the air station's Marines had been posted to Saudi Arabia during the buildup to the Persian Gulf War.

The race was dedicated to those Marines, and all runners wore yellow ribbons on their race numbers.

Last year's race drew 1,950 participants, the biggest turnout yet for the event, now in its fifth year. Money raised by entry fees will benefit the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department at the air station, which organizes activities for Marines on the base and which recently lost its government funding.

What: Fifth annual Run of the Runways 5K, 10K and half-marathon runs.

When: Sunday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 a.m. Registration begins at 6 a.m.

Where: El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Whereabouts: Take Interstate 5 to Sand Canyon Road and turn left; turn right at Trabuco Road and proceed to the base main gate.

Wherewithal: $19 registration.

Where to call: (714) 726-2100.

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